Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) took to Instagram Live on Feb. 1 to recount in more detail her traumatic experience during the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. This is her second Instagram Live detailing her experience since the first from Jan. 13, which was an hour long.
In this second 90-minute Instagram Live, which has over 5 million views, AOC shared that she is a survivor of sexual assault. This is something she wrestled with revealing due to the fear that many people wouldn’t believe her. “The reason I say this and the reason I’m getting emotional in this moment is because these folks who tell us to move on, that it’s not a big deal, that we should forget what’s happened, or even telling us to apologize. These are the same tactics of abusers. And, um, I’m a survivor of sexual assault,” AOC said. “And I haven’t told many people that in my life. But when we go through trauma, trauma compounds on each other.”
AOC explained that the effects of past trauma can be triggered by a new traumatic experience even if they are different from one another. She added: “And so, whether you had a negligent or a neglectful parent, and – or whether you had someone who was verbally abusive to you, whether you are a survivor of abuse, whether you experience any sort of trauma in your life, small to large – these episodes can compound on one another.”
Dismissal and disbelief of survivors
A few were quick to label AOC’s recount as ’emotional manipulation’ and imply that she used her sexual assault and trauma to win political arguments. Minimization and gaslighting of survivors this way are nothing new. In fact it’s harmful takes like these that make survivors feel more isolated in their trauma. On the other hand, many people praised AOC for publicly speaking about her trauma and de-stigmatizing the issue. This was clearly not easy to do, especially as AOC is a prominent politician who is constantly subjected to online abuse and death threats.
It’s common for survivors to be easily dismissed and disbelieved, especially in male-dominated environments. Being told to ‘just get over it’ or being told that they’re being dramatic in an effort to discount them. Most women who speak up face being gaslighted, being silenced, and if they are a public figure face being publicly scrutinized. In extreme cases some are punished for speaking up. Therefore, many women shared the same level of fear that AOC expressed.
AOC told viewers: “If you have experienced any sort of trauma, just the fact of recognizing that and admitting it is already a huge step. Especially in a world where people are constantly trying to tell you that you didn’t experience what you experienced, or that you’re lying…Those are additional traumas on trauma that you’ve already experienced. There’s the trauma of going through what you went through, and then there’s the trauma afterwards. Of people not believing you, or trying to publicly humiliate you, or trying to embarrass you.”
Traumatic experiences can happen to anyone, with some trauma having a severe and long-lasting effect. Furthermore, if your psychological trauma symptoms get worse and interfere with day-to-day functioning then you may have post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a mental health condition caused by a traumatic experience.
According to Sidran Institute, an estimated 70% of adults in the US have experienced a traumatic event at least once in their lives. Up to 20% of these people go on to develop PTSD. 1 in 13 people will develop PTSD during their lifetime. Women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD; an estimated 1 in 9 women will get PTSD at some point in their lives.
AOC’s Instagram Live(s) offers an honest insight into what it is like to go through multiple traumatic experiences and the toll it can have. To simply reduce this and imply that she is using her trauma to win political arguments, without looking at the facts, is ill-considered. It takes a lot of courage to speak out in a society that has shown time and time again that it doesn’t want to listen or believe women. Women deserve to be believed, not subjected to further trauma for speaking out.
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